The Burden of Oppression

There are many ways that oppression creeps into our daily lives and causes us undue stress and anxiety, pressure that would otherwise leave us space to be free to do the things that fulfill us and feed our souls. Unsurprisingly, the burden of oppression is most felt by the oppressed; it just wouldn’t be sustainable that those that benefit from the oppression of others (as most all of us on this earth do at varying degrees) would be left with the responsibility to carry the weight of something so energy-draining and distracting – why, that wouldn’t be a benefit at all!

One of the most taxing ways that we are being kept as oppressed people is through the burden of heartbreak. If we look at any system of oppression, it is clear that the feeling of being broken-hearted is being held by those that are at a disadvantage, and this acts as a major mechanism of separation between the acting parties. We can see this between men and women in a system of sexism and patriarchy, between whites and people of color in a system of racism and white supremacy, even in more specific examples such as between the Israelis and Palestinians in that system of who-knows-what-the-fuck – I could point out endless examples if I chose to, but these are the ones that are closest to my own heartbreak.

Without even delving into situations of oppression that leave me feeling extra helpless, I can look into my own relatively super-privileged life and see the ways that the burden of heartbreak that I carry acts as a barrier between myself and those in my life who I struggle to come to closer understandings with, those that inhabit the other side of this heart-break barrier because of whatever reason. Relationships between men and women are already so convoluted within our shared (and taught) understandings of how things are supposed to work, without even adding in the heart-break factor – and when we do consider the role that oppression plays then it is no wonder that magazines like Cosmopolitan can continue to make a profit trying to “decode” the whole mess of things… I cannot speak for all women but I do speak as a woman when I say that one of the things preventing me from holding my brothers (and by brothers I mean men, male-identified individuals, not my actual fraternal brothers) a little closer in our shared understanding of what it is to be human is their lack of understanding what it means to be heartbroken by the oppression of sexism. This is not to be misconstrued as a belief that men do not suffer from heartbreak under a system of sexism, nor a belief that men cannot be heartbroken because of sexism. Rather, that the experience of being a woman and being told what that means (in relation to sexism) in itself constitutes heartbreak – how can it be anything but heartbreaking to grasp at any level that you are designated as less-than, as second class to a class of beings that is supposedly more valid that yourself? (As an aside, this reminds me of my younger, actual brother, who is currently going through the process of discovering that he is black and what that necessarily means in a world of white supremacy… and honestly, thinking about anyone’s self-discovery of their second-class status brings me to depths of heartbreak that I cannot even access through tears –

Although I often talk about things in a very abstract manner, the evidence of the heartbreak barrier between men and women (for example) is something that we see play out in concrete ways all the time. We see it in the reactions that we have as women, whether constructed or real (and honestly is there any differentiation on that anyway?), to the things that those men of particular importance in our lives do within our relationships of particular importance – the relationship of salvation that is set up for us women: our romantic relationships that are supposed to save us from invalidity as human beings… To be more clear what I mean is that being loved, or claimed, by a man is touted as what is supposed to validate us as women, as evidenced by, well, I don’t know, look a fucking round you (hint: everything). This is how sexism works (and fuck me if it isn’t a hell of an effective system): tell women we aren’t worth shit, then tell us that to actually try and fight for being worth anything we must do so through the eyes of a man/men, i.e. be valued by men to be valuable as a woman. As long as whatever we happen to be doing is being understood through a (constructed or not/ whatever) male-oriented framework then we are oppressed as fuck, and I honestly can’t even wrap my head around the scale of our oppression because it is so entrenched in everything, or rather everything is entrenched in it, or really I don’t even know (both!). This is why it hurts us (me!) as much as it does when the men in our lives (the men that are given that particular importance of saving us from our worthlessness) do things that can be perceived as having little to do with us; and no I am not saying that our romantic male partners must have their life revolve around us, but that it can be anything, literally anything, that feels threatening to their us than the other way around (issues of appearance fit into this larger framework of sexism along with concepts of scarcity). This is why it hurts so much differently when a man “cheats” on a woman than when a woman “cheats” on a man, not because it doesn’t hurt to both men and women, but because for women that is putting into question our whole validity as humans within the larger, accepted context of sexism. This is why we can’t compare, thinking of a different form of oppression, the words “nigger” and “cracker” as if they carry the same weight. Yes, they are both racially-charged terms, but one doesn’t come with the history of invalidating the target race’s entire fucking humanity like, forever.

There are so many articles out there on sexism, racism, this and that, about where we see it and who and what, where/ how/ why. They are all very important, but they don’t help me to navigate my heartbreak any better. Where are the resources that are telling me that yes, we are heartbroken too, and this is how we are getting through it (?). I’ve given up on the possibility that the man of that particular importance in my own life (of whom, by the way, I am doing my best to not give him the importance of saving me, as 1: I am actually worthy and valid as a human being already because we all are, and 2: I don’t need anyone but myself to understand that) – that he will understand the pain I feel tied to different events within our own relationship or even within the greater world, because as much as I explain to him my feelings, he has not taken on the legacy of heartbreak that comes with being told he is less-than (in terms of gender) and so he can never relate emphatically to matters of that. Just as white people will never know what it is like to not be white, as much as they can intellectually conceptualize it in their heads, men will never know the heartbreak of being a woman, and this is a barrier to our truly understanding one another.

But human beings find connection through shared experiences, and so we do not need to completely be each other to know each other. We only need to have known suffering, and laughter, to understand the people outside of us. If we understand that pain and joy are universal experiences of humanity, then we can extrapolate our own experiences of these things to see that we are no different than one another, then treat ourselves and others accordingly. This is how we can comprehend the humanity of even the most hateful individuals, or whomever individuals are hardest for us to love in our own lives (by understanding that their pain is the same as our pain) and how we can love even deeper those who cause our hearts to flutter, by understanding that their joy is our joy. We all suffer from oppression in this world, and the sooner that we can see that we are all the fucking same the sooner we can connect on more meaningful levels with one another.

It is important to remember though, that the most necessary part of the equation is self-love. Self-love is important because no one is going to save us from our heartbreak but ourselves, and because it doesn’t matter how much same-ness we see if we cannot learn to love our humanity for what it is. And ultimately, isn’t that what oppression is trying to prevent? Self-love is resistance to oppression. Let us redeem ourselves through self-love (and consequently self/other/love) and emancipate ourselves from heartbreak slavery; none but ourselves can set us free.

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